Analysis: Otago without Henaghan – what will happen? The Colin Craig circus

So Dunedin has lost Cadburys and now Mark Henaghan.  What is happening down there? Otago Law School without its dean, Professor Henaghan, seems like a chocolate factory without chocolate.

His mark on both the school and its alumni has been impressive and indelible. Untainted by the academe, Professor Henaghan retained the unique ability to not only not take himself seriously but to also seriously resist the trappings of office.

I was talking to someone the other day about a brilliant Kiwi student at one of the world's top-tier universities who was wanting to complete his doctorate and get back into the real world. The university, he said, was virtually claiming his soul and institutionalising him.  

That’s like some academics, who talk and live differently from the rest of us, focusing upon their research projects and sabbaticals followed at what is often a poor third place, by their students.

With the professor you felt that he was in some respects the anti-intellectual, the one who flew over the academic cuckoo nest delighting in dropping poop upon them from time to time just to remind them we all live in the real world or should do.

Facebook has been swamped with tributes to Professor Henaghan whose passion and commitment to his students and to his university was so tangible you could touch it. His commitment to both was total, although doubtless his occasional bovver boy approach to life, with his cross-dressing stage appearances at student shows, his touch rugby and of course the student camps that were embroiled in the roiling #Metoo ruckus.

But there is no doubting that here is a man whose role and stature among hundreds of lawyers, including leading figures in the law, was as unquestioned as it was unmatched by any of his academic peers.  

I recall first meeting him when checking out his law school with my son and when he took us to his office and generously and with trademark enthusiasm expounded upon the virtues of Otago Law School to the point where I wanted to enrol. As Facebook tributes reflect, his commitment and support for those who have suffered any setback and for the less privileged has been an inspirational example that has saved law degrees, careers and maybe even lives.

Not many law school deans can hang their hats on that roster of accomplishment and the gap he leaves as the face of Otago Law School for so many years is one that will challenge the quite different if able abilities of his successor, Jessica Palmer.

I've run into Professor Henaghan personally in Dunedin, Wellington and even Oxford Circus, where his 

infectious and occasionally indecorous personality abound on every occasion.  Let's not be morbid, he's not dead after all but he will be sadly missed.

Southern trials
Apart from the Henaghan departure, Invercargill's personality-in-chief Tim Shadbolt once again kept his city on the edge of its seat as the recent defamation trial came to town, being the first such trial there in over 100 years.   

Fought between former Izard Weston colleagues Peter McKnight for the plaintiff, councillor Karen Arnold, and Robert Stewart for Fairfax, the trial saw the usual twists and turns that these matters take, ultimately both beguiling and entertaining the locals before Fairfax prevailed. 

The trial has echoes of the Lange case from two decades ago in terms of providing qualified privilege protection for those who honestly criticise political figures.

Meanwhile, Fairfax counsel Robert Stewart has left Izard Weston to join Shortland Chambers as a barrister, taking defamation 'Stuff' with him while former Victoria University lecturer Dr Bevan Marten, who formerly spent time at Izard Weston, has returned to the fold.

The Colin Craig circus
The Colin Craig multi-ringed circus continues to come to a court near you. The recent Court of Appeal decision to partially allow Jordan Williams' appeal, opening the way for a hearing as to damages only, is a highly unusual move in New Zealand but par for the Craig course.  

The judgment stated that Williams could have expected $200,000 for the "core element" of the defamation, excluding any aggravating factors.

Readers will recall that Jordan Williams received a $1.27 million verdict in 2015, the highest in New Zealand history. 

The previous record-setter was liquidator Michael Stiassny's judgment against Vince Siemer (Korda Mentha v Siemer), which stood at $825,000.  

While the judgment was entered, the court found Craig had "played for high stakes and lost" in the words of Justice Rhys Harrison.  

He also noted the trial process "exposed serious flaws in the characters of both protagonists."

Craig court time
Colin Craig is now suing Jordan Williams for $500,000 for the same matter, which is awaiting a striking out decision. He also has his action against Rachel McGregor to be heard, set down for a four-week hearing in September while Cameron Whaleoil Slater and Mr Craig are awaiting Justice Kit Toogood's decision following their McGregor-related court battle.

And, if I'm not mistaken, that just leaves the action by Colin Craig against John Stringer, which is being fought in both the Auckland and Christchurch registries. Oh, not forgetting the District Court proceeding over copyright to his "love letter" poems to Ms McGregor and also a defamation proceeding against a former employee.

This is supplied content and not commissioned or paid for by NBR.

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